Tuesday, November 28, 2023

BOOK REVIEW: Gentle Conquest by Mary Balogh

Gentle Conquest is vintage Mary Balogh. Originally published in 1987, it is one of the classics by this author, now republished as an ebook. In her preface, the author invites comparisons between her older books and her new ones. For me, while it is clear the genre has evolved, it is impossible not to enjoy this author’s work, vintage or new.

Ralph Middleton, the new Earl of Chartleigh, is just twenty-one and such a mild, bookish young man that his mother despairs of him. Why doesn’t he drink, gamble, and chase women like a real man should? She decides the only thing for it is to quickly find him a wife, and hopes family responsibilities force him to grow up quickly.

In fact, in most respects, Ralph is more mature than his peers. He has strong ideas about caring for his tenants and his political consciousness leans toward helping those less fortunate. He is secure enough in himself to let his mother’s criticisms roll off his back But he isn’t averse to taking a wife. Especially once he meets the girl his mother has picked out for him.

Georgiana Burton, daughter of Viscount Lansbury, is only eighteen and already a handful. She likes to think of herself as a rule-breaker, too high-spirited to be reined in by the ton. (In reality, she’s immature and a bit full of herself.) Be that as it may, she is still under her father’s rule, and he is threatening to send her back to their dull country estate if she gets into one more scandalous scrape. His wife suggests a better alternative: find Georgiana a husband. Then her behavior will be his problem, not theirs.

When Georgiana discovers she is to be courted by, and is expected to wed, the boy-faced, mild-mannered Earl of Chartleigh, she is furious. How dare her parents saddle her with such a milquetoast! In a fit of pique, she decides she will marry him. At least it will get her out from under her father’s thumb. She’ll pretend to be docile and shy until they are wed, and then she will trample the poor fellow underfoot and live the freewheeling life she desires.

Things don’t go exactly as Georgiana expects. She is unexpectedly charmed by her gentle husband. He doesn’t object to her follies, which somehow makes her regret them.

Their relationship would develop apace except for a wedding night disaster. Georgiana experiences pain. Ralph backs away. The marriage is not consummated. The rest of the plot essentially revolves around the necessity of and scheming around finally consummating the marriage. While the novel is very sex focused, the sex is not graphic. It’s a very sweet story with both characters demonstrating increasing maturity and understanding.  

Wednesday, November 22, 2023

BOOK REVIEW: Diary of a Provincial Lady by E.M. Delafield

First published in 1930, Diary of a Provincial Lady by E.M. Delafield is a semi-autobiographical novel that is chockful of droll British humor. The diarist is an upper-middle-class woman living in Devonshire. She is the wife of a land agent (Robert) and mother of two young children (Robin and Vicki). Robin is mostly away at school and Vicki is under the care of an emotional French governess. They have a forbidding cook and a succession of housemaids. So what does this provincial lady do all day long? The protagonist’s time is taken up with paying calls, failing at growing bulbs, shopping for things she can’t afford, taking occasional vacations with her single friend, Rose, attempting to manage her children, and clubbing (in the old-fashioned sense of the word.) She views it all with a jaundiced eye and relates it in an irony-laced tone that had me, at several points, laughing out loud. 

This is one of those books that no description of plot can do justice to. The voice of the heroine is what makes this story sing. It’s a very quick read. Highly recommended!

Tuesday, November 21, 2023

BOOK REVIEW: Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Lord by Celeste Connally

 I received this book for free from Netgalley. That did not influence this review.

For some reason, I’ve been reading a rash of books lately centered on the trope of sane women being locked away in asylums when they become inconvenient to men.

In Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Lord by Celeste Connally, the heroine is Lady Petra Forsyth, daughter of the Earl of Holbrook. Petra is a determined young woman, an excellent horsewoman, independently wealthy, but who lost her fiance/lover three years earlier in a tragic accident. Although her grief has waned over time, no other man could ever win her heart. Nor does she want to be won. Why give up her independence? She announced at a society event that she is determined to remain unmarried.

This doesn’t sit well with the men of the ton who don’t believe in female autonomy. It especially bothers her uncle, her dead mother’s sister, who feels her father has been too lenient in her upbringing and is allowing her to bring shame upon herself.

Petra has no patience with the man and goes about her business in London. There, she is reunited with her childhood friend (and friend of her deceased fiancĂ©), Duncan. They are now estranged and she isn’t sure she trusts him. She also discovers that a dear friend of hers has died. Maybe. A footman insists that he has recently seen her alive.

Petra begins investigating and grows increasingly intrigued and worried as it becomes apparent that numerous aristocratic women are being sent for treatment to a home hidden out in the country, under the care of a Mr. Drysdale. Some of them have died and others are not heard from again, while their husbands jaunt around London looking well-pleased.

Readers familiar with the trope will figure out what is going on before Petra does. And then will go along for the ride as she throws herself into her investigation. She’s brave and feisty, but shows poor judgement often enough to become annoying. (For example, although she knows women are being drugged and carted away, when she is offered wine by a particularly odious, untrustworthy man, and the wine tastes “off” and she starts feeling dizzy, she decides the thing to do is guzzle the glass.) Nevertheless, she sticks to her purpose and, fortunately, can rely on Duncan more than she thought.

This is the first novel in a new series. Although I liked the supporting cast (especially Duncan and Lady Caroline), I’m not drawn in enough by the protagonist to make it likely I’ll return for book two.

Sunday, November 19, 2023

BLOG TOUR EXCERPT: The Middle Generation by M.B. Zucker


Book Title: The Middle Generation: A Novel of John Quincy Adams and the Monroe Doctrine
M. B. Zucker

Publication Date: November 7, 2023
Publisher: Historium Press
Page Length: 432
Historical Fiction / Biographical Fiction


Twitter Handle: @MichaelZucker1 @cathiedunn

Instagram Handle: @m.b.zucker.author @thecoffeepotbookclub



The Middle Generation: A Novel of John Quincy Adams and the Monroe Doctrine

by M. B. Zucker




The classical era of American history began with the Revolution and ended with emancipation. Between these bookends lies the absorbing yet overshadowed epic of a new nation spearheading liberty’s cause in a world skeptical of freedom arriving at all, much less in slaver’s garb. M. B. Zucker takes readers back to that adolescent country in the care of an enigmatic guide, John Quincy Adams, heir to one president by blood and another, Washington, by ideology. Adams is the missing link between the founders and Abraham Lincoln, and is nigh unanimously regarded as America’s foremost Secretary of State. Through Adams’ eyes, readers will experience one of history’s greatest and most forgotten crises: his showdown with Europe over South American independence, the conflict which prefigured the Monroe Doctrine.


With his signature dialogue and his close study of Adams’ 51 volume diary, M. B. Zucker’s The Middle Generation is a political thriller and character piece that surpasses his achievement in The Eisenhower Chronicles and ascends to the cinematic heights of the historical epics of David Lean and Steven Spielberg. It is an unforgettable portrait and a leap forward for one of our rising historical fiction novelists.


Buy Links:


Universal Link: https://geni.us/fNbEE


Amazon US: https://www.amazon.com/Middle-Generation-Quincy-Monroe-Doctrine-ebook/dp/B0CKY9DKW3

Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Middle-Generation-Quincy-Monroe-Doctrine-ebook/dp/B0CKY9DKW3

Amazon Can: https://www.amazon.ca/Middle-Generation-Quincy-Monroe-Doctrine-ebook/dp/B0CKY9DKW3

Amazon Aus: https://www.amazon.com.au/Middle-Generation-Quincy-Monroe-Doctrine-ebook/dp/B0CKY9DKW3

Kobo: https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/the-middle-generation

Barnes & Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-middle-generation-m-b-zucker/1144180428?ean=9781962465076


The title will be available in several Barnes and Noble stores in the DC / Northern Virginia area.

Author Bio:

M. B. Zucker has been interested in storytelling for as long as he can remember. He devoted himself to historical fiction at fifteen and earned his B.A. at Occidental College and his J.D. at Case Western Reserve University School of Law. He lives in Virginia with his family. He is the author of three other novels. Among his honors is the Best Fictional Biography Award at the 2023 BookFest. 

Author Links:

Website: www.mbzucker.com

Twitter:  https://twitter.com/michaelzucker1

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100061516155957

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/m.b.zucker.author/

Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/stores/M.-B.-Zucker/author/B09JM74HMF


Excerpt 2:

My eyes, still irritated, were now heavy as I arrived home and I prayed Mrs. Adams had had one of her good days. We’d rented a house at C and 4 ½ Street. A modest home but our family fit well enough. The neighborhood was uninspired, even by Washington standards, the indiscernible buildings standing in file rows like minutemen awaiting approaching redcoats. Its worst feature was a jail-turned-slave pen a mere block away.

I entered the home and saw that the dining room fireplace embers were abating. George, my eldest, slept nearby. John and Charles, my younger sons, attended Boston Public Latin School and lived with the Welshes, our friends. Two chambers—the dining room and kitchen—were at the front while a cluster of minute bedrooms inhabited the rear. The dining room had a table with six chairs, a cluttered bookcase, and portraits of Cicero and George and Martha Washington.

I approached my son and saw a French study book opened so I couldn’t read the title and painted metal toy soldiers organized for battle. I kneeled and shook his shoulder until his eyes opened.

“Were you studying or playing?”

He groaned. “I was studying and took a break.”

“You don’t have time for games if you’re to enter Harvard as a sophomore.”

“I know, Father,” he said meekly.

“I will make our name proud,” I said in French. In English: “Translate for me.” He failed, barely trying, and I paced about. “Don’t you want to make something of yourself? To get somewhere—anywhere—in the world? To earn my admiration rather than be a burden?” He wept. I stood over him so my words carried greater force. “Control yourself. Be distinguishable from the placenta once attached to you.”

He begged between gasps: “Stop, Father.”

I froze, stressed from my day. I chose to be kinder. “What battle were you reenacting?”

A moment. “General Washington’s victory at Saratoga.”

“Washington wasn’t at Saratoga. It was Gates. You can’t even waste time properly.”

He hugged his legs.

“Work for another hour before retiring for the day. Read scripture before bed. It’s medicine for the soul. We are all, son, unwilling to confess our own faults, even to ourselves. Our consciences either disguise them under false and delusive colors or seek out excuses and apologies to reconcile them to our minds.”

He nodded and I entered the kitchen. A claustrophobic space made worse by protruding counters, stuffed shelves, and a round three-legged table at one end. A pot of stew waited for me. I was too drowsy for hunger.

Ellen and Antoine released their grip on one another. Ellen was our cook and Antoine was a young Belgian man I’d hired as my servant. They were the best-looking pair in the family, though that said little.

“I take it Mary’s asleep?” I asked, referring to my wife’s nine-year-old niece living with us.

“Yes, Mr. Adams,” Ellen said.

“And Lucy?” My wife’s servant.

Ellen hesitated. “She’s in bed.”

“Did Mrs. Adams yell at her again?” More hesitation. “Be honest.”

“Yes, Mr. Adams. Mrs. Adams had another episode.” My head drooped. “She fainted and we put her in your bedroom. She might be awake now.”

I lacked room to express my frustration and so squeezed my fists. “I needed her to have a good day.”

“I’m sorry, sir.”

I turned to leave and paused. “You may restore your embrace.”

Our bedroom was pitch black. Curtains resembling a sorcerer’s cape altered it into a lightless mausoleum. Misaligned portraits of our sons and a pamphlet about repairing buggy wheels cluttered a night table while the closet door remained ajar from when I left that morning. Mrs.

Adams opened her eyes. Paradise Lost, her favorite book, sat beside her face. Her hair grayer and her body plumper than when we wed. Self-induced stress was a greater culprit than age.

“You fainted?” I asked. She nodded. “Do you need laudanum?”

“No,” she whispered.

“Do you know the source?”

Louder now: “I again instructed Lucy—”

“Do you want her to quit?”

A sigh. “I don’t care.”

“What do you care about?”

“You know the answer. I can’t stop thinking about Baby Louisa.”

My spine used to stiffen at such remarks. No longer. “It was five years ago.”

“As if that matters.” Her posture rose. “She—she was everything. And you, in your heartlessness, you don’t even—”

“Of course I do. I loved our daughter more than anything. But we cannot live within mourning. We still have children to attend to. Lives which must go on. We cannot afford, nor should we want, to be consumed by a single tragedy. We must accept it as a dark chapter and—”

“Do not lecture me. You haven’t the right.”

“A right derived from what?”

“Look at how you treat those dearest to me. Like Baby Louisa. Like Father.”

I shook my head. “Your father was in the wrong. He brought it upon himself.”

“You merely had to pay off—”

“I was not about to allow his creditors to blackmail me, Louisa. To blackmail our family.”

Screaming now. “Instead you allowed for his humiliation. He had to flee London for America, a country whose revolution he supported—”

Joined her screaming. “Do you know the insult to my virtue—”

She scoffed. “Your virtue?”

“Yes, my virtue. It’s my most valuable possession. My life’s foundation. As if I had the money to pay off his creditors when I’m supporting our family on a government salary.”

“He died a broken man. A man who’d been—”

“He lied to us, Louisa. To you.”

A lower octave. “He was the only one who cared. Who ever cared.”

“People care for you.”




“Of course. And our family.”

“They don’t respect me.”

“That doesn’t mean they don’t care.”

“It’s a prerequisite.” She turned to the curtain. “I ask so little from life and I get even less.”

“Self-indulgence is pathetic.”

“I just want a happy family. That’s all.”

“Life isn’t meant to be happy.”

“Yes it is. At least, that’s what I believe.”

“A foolish belief. Everyone feels stress but adults put it aside and keep going.”

A pause. “I should join our daughter beyond the grave.”

“Or don’t listen to me. Whichever’s better.”

I undressed in the mirror and became blue. My handsome days were behind me. Balder and rounder. I mentioned my eye troubles and will inform you of my hands later. I wished to hide from the world and never appear in public again. No one should have to see this.

Some quiet minutes. Then, “Let’s leave for Braintree the day after tomorrow.”

“Why?” she asked.

“Getting away from the city will clear your head. We’ll spend time with my family instead of the vultures circling Washington.”

“Can you afford to leave?”

“No, but your health is more important. I’ll return before the upcoming congressional session.”

“You’re underestimating the time required to visit New England during winter.”

“Not if we travel by steamship. I’ll tell Brent tomorrow that he must run the Department for a few days. He’ll understand.”

“Daniel is a considerate man.” A pause. “Can we visit John and Charles?”

“You can. I won’t have time.”

“They need their father.”

“They’ll have to do without. For now.” 


Saturday, November 18, 2023

BOOK REVIEW: The Bookbinder by Pip Williams

I received this book for free from Netgalley. That did not influence this review.

If you loved The Dictionary of Lost Words (I did!), and didn’t want it to end, you can read Pip Williams’ new historical novel, The Bookbinder. It’s not a sequel, but rather a sidestep into the lives of characters occupying a similar time and place, with a slight reference to the earlier book. 

Peggy Jones is a bindery girl. She and her identical twin sister Maude both work in the women’s side (the bindery) of the Clarendon Press, located in Oxford but an entirely different world from the Oxford. They are “town” while Oxford folks are “gown.” Yet it is Peggy’s lifelong dream to attend Somerville, the women’s college. Peggy has the intelligence and drive, but feels held back by the need to take care of her sister. They are orphans and Maude is neurodivergent.

Peggy tries to satisfy her desire for knowledge by collecting bits and pieces from the bindery that fail inspection. She fills the houseboat on the canal that she and Maude share with imperfect books and book fragments.

When WWI begins, Belgian refugees arrive. Although made welcome at first, their presence is resented as the war wears on and more and more local boys are lost. However, Maude makes a new friend of one of the refugees, and Peggy begins to feel left out.

Feeling she needs to do more for the war effort, Peggy volunteers at the hospital as a reader. There she meets a Belgian soldier, Bastiaan, who is horribly disfigured by war injuries. Their time together brings them closer, and when he is discharged from the hospital, they continue to see one another. They fall in love. But Peggy is unable to give up her dreams of becoming a scholar. When opportunity arises to try for a scholarship, she has to choose between striving for admission to college and pursuing her romance with Bastiaan. She also has to come to terms with the fact that Maude may not need her as much as she thought.

This is a touching novel that shows the struggles of women to claim their place in the world. It also demonstrates the hardships of war for both soldiers and the people at home. The writing is lovely, but the novel has a leisurely pace and didn’t draw me in as much as The Dictionary of Lost Words.  But that could be because I’ve been reading a lot of “women during the wars” books lately and I’m ready for a change.

Friday, November 17, 2023

BOOK REVIEW: The Rose Code by Kate Quinn

My book group’s next pick is The Rose Code by Kate Quinn. Admittedly, my first reaction was yikes! This is a long one. But it’s a quick read. The last third, especially, is a page-turner.

The story is set in two time periods, during and just after WWII. In the “just after,” in 1947, as preparations are underway for the wedding of Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip, three women who once worked for the war effort must reunite to catch a traitor. In the “during the war” sections, we see what they did.

Osla Kendall, socialite and one-time girlfriend of Prince Philip, is determined to be seen as more than just a dizzy deb. Mab Churt is a tall, ferociously pretty woman who climbed out of Shoreditch poverty by dint of hard work and determination. Both find themselves assigned to the top secret Bletchley Park where the German codes are being broken. They are housed with a local family, the Finches, where they meet the daughter, Beth Finch, a timid and abused young woman with a remarkable but hidden brilliance, who desperately needs a chance to break free.

At Bletchley Park, the work is so secret that even the workers are kept in the dark about what goes on in any of the divisions but their own. They are made to swear an oath that they will not speak of anything they are doing or they’ll be prosecuted as traitors. This secrecy wears them down more than the impossibly hard work. Eventually, it is the secrecy that will lead to the ruin of the friendship of these three women.

The novel has a slow build as the reader is drawn into the world of codebreaking, wartime romance, and intense friendships forged by hardship. But it’s necessary to put all the pieces firmly in place before breaking them down bit by bit. Someone at Blenchley Park was a traitor. And the women who broke each other’s trust must decide if they can trust each other enough to catch the spy before it’s too late.

Did you see the movie The Imitation Game? If you liked that, you’ll love The Rose Code.

Wednesday, November 15, 2023

AUDIOBOOK REVIEW: Mrs. Porter Calling by A.J. Pearce

I’ve been slow getting to book three in the The Emmy Lake Chronicles, Mrs. Porter Calling, by A.J. Pearce. (Book One - Dear Mrs. Bird and Book Two - Yours Cheerfully are both delightful, and I recommend reading the series in order.) I’m experimenting more with audiobooks, so I listened to Mrs. Porter Calling, read by Anna Popplewell, and it is just wonderful.

Emmy has settled into her role as the advice column editor at the now thriving women’s magazine, Women’s Friend. She works with people she loves and respects, particularly her brother-in-law, Guy Collins. (Emmy’s husband is a soldier, away at war throughout the book.) She lives with her best friend Bunty in Bunty’s grandmother’s large house. When her second-best friend, Thelma, needs a place to live with her three children, they are invited to take the top floor. Everything is chugging along as well as can be during wartime. Even the Blitz has slowed to a trickle of bombs and the news reassures them all that Hitler is on the run.

Then things fall apart. The owner of Women’s Friend has passed and left the magazine to his niece, the Honorable Cressida Porter. Mrs. Porter is a selfish, self-centered socialite who views the magazine as a way to show off. Instead of articles that serve women in wartime, she takes up the pages with photos of her dog and her society friends, as well as fashion that no one but her high society friends could ever afford. She cuts Emmy’s column down, claiming it is too dreary, and refuses to let her answer the hard questions that readers are desperate to hear about. Predictably, the magazine loses readers and advertisers. And the plucky staff, Emmy’s friends, begin to lose hope.

Just when I’m anticipating a cheery, if somewhat pat, resolution, the floor drops out from under Emmy, reminding me that there is a war on, and there are no pat answers.

Once again, A.J. Pearce delivers a heartwarming story of Brits on the homefront during WWII, doing their best to muddle through in the worst of circumstances. This is a wonderful series. I don’t know if there will be a book four, but if there is, I’ll read it!

Monday, November 13, 2023

BOOK REVIEW: Let the Dead Bury the Dead by Allison Epstein

 I received this book for free from Netgalley. That did not influence this review.

Allison Epstein is now a must-read author for me. I loved her debut, A Tip for the Hangman, so I was eager to read her newest release, Let the Dead Bury the Dead.

Let the Dead Bury the Dead
is an alternate history, so although the characters are all fictional, the story is placed in a historical context (Russia, 1812, just after Napoleon has been chased away) where it feels as if the events could be real. (Except, for the vila, the witch…) Slavic folklore is woven into the tale adding magical realism to the mix. I am not, in general, a fan of magical realism. And I admit that the first time Sofia turned into an owl, I was a bit put off. And yet, the characters were so compelling, the writing so beautiful, and the folk tales so perfectly adapted to fit in with the story, that it all worked to create a novel I couldn’t put down.

In the aftermath of Napoleon’s defeat in Russia, the tsar wants to consolidate his power at home. If this means crushing the life out of his own people, the very people who supported his army and country, giving their all, so be it. The tsar and his family live in obscene luxury while the common people, pretty much everyone else, starve. The tsar’s second son, Felix, the Grand Duke, dared once to speak up for the people and found himself banished to a palace 15 miles from St. Petersburg where he has given himself over to idle hedonism.

Felix’s lover, the soldier Sasha, has now returned from the war. On his way to find Felix, he comes across a woman of unearthly beauty (Sofia) nearly dead from the cold, lying in the forest. He rescues her. This is something he quickly comes to regret. Sasha comes from the poor peasantry and was raised on the old stories. He recognizes a witch when he sees one.

Sofia plays on Felix’s ambition to convince him he is the leader the people need, setting things in motion and tearing the two lovers apart. 

At the same time, Marya, a young woman involved with a group of revolutionaries and the right hand of the group’s leader, Isaak, is busily helping to organize a general strike. It’s exceptionally dangerous as the tsar will certainly crack down at the merest hint of dissent. Nevertheless, Marya has faith that good can come out of a popular revolt. It’s necessary. Sofia works her magic on Marya also, convincing her that she has more to offer than simply following Isaak’s lead.

The novel works so well because of its moral ambiguity. Each of the main characters is partly right and very much wrong. The world is overwhelmingly against them and no simple solutions are available. Good can’t conquer evil when there is no pure good and no pure evil. (Although Sofia certainly comes close to pure evil, even she makes some good points. The tsar is evil, but evil in the commonplace cruel dictator way, and eliminating him will solve nothing.)

If you want to lose yourself in a beautiful historical fairy tale, I can’t recommend Let the Dead Bury the Dead highly enough.

Friday, November 10, 2023

FRIDAY 56: The Rose Code by Kate Quinn


Anne@Head Full of Books invited me to participate in Friday56 with other book bloggers, so I'm giving it a go. I hope I do this right!

I'm also including it in Book Beginnings hosted by Rose City Reader.

Title: The Rose Code by Kate Quinn 

Book Beginnings Quote: The enigma arrived in the afternoon post, sealed, smudged, and devastating.

Friday56 quote (quote taken from page 56): Any other woman, Osla reflected, would have run to her husband-to-be if she got menacing letters from a madhouse inmate. It was the sort of thing fiances liked to know, if the woman they loved was being threatened by a lunatic. But Osla knew she was not going to tell a soul.

Summary: (Taken from goodreads):

1940. As England prepares to fight the Nazis, three very different women answer the call to mysterious country estate Bletchley Park, where the best minds in Britain train to break German military codes. Vivacious debutante Osla is the girl who has everything—beauty, wealth, and the dashing Prince Philip of Greece sending her roses—but she burns to prove herself as more than a society girl, and puts her fluent German to use as a translator of decoded enemy secrets. Imperious self-made Mab, product of East-End London poverty, works the legendary code-breaking machines as she conceals old wounds and looks for a socially advantageous husband. Both Osla and Mab are quick to see the potential in local village spinster Beth, whose shyness conceals a brilliant facility with puzzles, and soon Beth spreads her wings as one of the Park’s few female cryptanalysts. But war, loss, and the impossible pressure of secrecy will tear the three apart.

1947. As the royal wedding of Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip whips post-war Britain into a fever, three friends-turned-enemies are reunited by a mysterious encrypted letter—the key to which lies buried in the long-ago betrayal that destroyed their friendship and left one of them confined to an asylum. A mysterious traitor has emerged from the shadows of their Bletchley Park past, and now Osla, Mab, and Beth must resurrect their old alliance and crack one last code together. But each petal they remove from the rose code brings danger - mdash - and their true enemy...

Review: Stay tuned!  This is my book group's next pick. I've just started it -- I'm not even up to page 56 yet, but I'm pulled in so far!


Thursday, November 9, 2023

AUDIOBOOK REVIEW: The Duke Knows Best by Jane Ashford

I received this audiobook free from Netgalley. That did not influence this review.

I generally prefer reading books to listening to them, but I am in the midst of knitting a Christmas gift and I can’t read and knit. So I was very happy to receive The Duke Knows Best by Jane Ashford as an audiobook. It is wonderfully narrated by Naomi Frederick, who has just the right accent and tone.

This is the sixth book in Ashford’s The Duke’s Sons series. I haven’t read others in the series but I am a big fan of Ashford’s Regency Romances. 

Miss Verity Sinclair is the daughter of a clergyman (dean of a cathedral), and she is desperate to see more of the world. She starts with London where she hopes to find a husband who will sweep her out of the mundane into a life of adventure. Unfortunately, her plans for accomplishing this are half-baked. And, more unfortunately, one of the first men she is introduced to is Lord Randolph Gresham.

Lord Randolph, one of the duke of Gresham’s five sons, is exceptionally handsome, intelligent, and kind. But he is a country parson and so not that man she is looking for. Because she is attracted to him, she chases him away with incredibly rude words even though he has done nothing objectionable. The next time they come across one another, she does the same. Falling for him would ruin all her plans.

Randolph has come to London to look for a wife. Six years ago, he courted a young woman who died of a quick illness just after they had become engaged. He still grieves for her, but is ready to move on. But not with Verity Sinclair. Although she’s beautiful, her manner is off-putting.

At a ton musicale, the hostess drags Randolph and Verity to the front of the room and insists they provide a duet. All their disharmony fades away as they become engrossed in the music. Ultimately, music will bring them together.

Lord Randolph is a delightful, mature hero who grounds this novel. The family bonds of the Greshams are warm and engaging. Verity is not a particularly likeable heroine. She begins as immature and rather unpleasant, but she does grow during the course of the book.

Overall, while not my favorite Ashford romance, listening to this audiobook was enjoyable. And it made me curious about the duke of Greshams other four sons!

Tuesday, November 7, 2023

BOOK REVIEW: The Beautiful Misfits by Susan Reinhardt

I stepped into the current day to read another contemporary novel, The Beautiful Misfits by Susan Reinhardt. This gripping story drops you into a mother’s worst nightmare: a child’s drug addiction.

Josette Nickels is one of those women who seem to have it all. She is an Emmy-winning news anchor for an Atlanta station and has a devoted following. But she also has a 23-year-old son who is addicted to drugs, an unsupportive husband, and a three-year-old daughter with Down Syndrome. One night, on-air, she learns that a friend of her son has died of a drug overdose. While reporting on the story, she has a breakdown and commits the unpardonable TV sin of losing control.

Josette’s life falls apart. She ends up in Asheville with her daughter, trying to hold it together while working as a cosmetics salesperson at a department store. Her now ex-husband harasses her for money. (He quit his job as a dentist to become an artist. This worked fine while Josette was a highly paid news anchor, but now that she’s broke, she thinks he should suck it up and get a job.) Her mother is a narcissist. Her coworkers are a nightmare. She hates pushing overpriced cosmetics. She gains 50 pounds on a fast-food diet. She’s an alcoholic.

And she has no idea, day-to-day, if her son is using or not. Or if he is dead or alive.

The novel does a superb job of showing the all-consuming worry, guilt, and grief associated with being the parent of an addict. No matter what else is going on in her life, her son Finley is never out of her thoughts 

The novel carries the reader along with Josette on her journey. Alongside the wrenching addiction story there is an entertaining send-up of the department store cosmetics industry. (You’ll steer clear of those free samples from now on!)

While ultimately redemptive, the story drives home the crisis of the substance abuse epidemic.

Saturday, November 4, 2023

BOOK REVIEW: Toward the Corner of Mercy and Peace by Tracey D. Buchanan

Toward the Corner of Mercy and Peace by Tracey D. Buchanan is a beautifully poignant historical novel with a dash of quirky Southern humor. Set in the early 1950s in small-town Kentucky, the novel focuses on the prickly widow Mrs. Minerva Place. A church organist who supplements her income giving children piano lessons, Mrs. Place is self-contained and introverted. Yes, she has a tendency to eavesdrop and sometimes spy on her neighbors from behind her curtains but she isn’t nosy. She prefers solitude. However, her unusual hobby keeps bringing visitors into her home. Her hobby is visiting the local cemetery, researching its inhabitants, and writing their fictionalized biographies. Her visitors are the dead people she writes about.

To Minerva, these manifestations are very real. She talks to these people and the conversations inform her writing. Still, she recognizes that if anyone knew what she was up to, they would think her crazy.

To a historical novelist, this sounds like a perfectly wonderful hobby – except for the talking to ghosts part.

Minerva’s life takes a turn when a new family moves into her neighborhood: a young widower, Robert McAlpin, and his 6-year-old son George. Robert is a gentle ever-smiling man. George is a rambunctious child who has a habit of intruding into Minerva’s space. Interacting with the two (and with her dead visitors) causes Minerva to remember/relive the trauma and disappointments of her life, things that shaped the woman she came to be. A horrible accident brings everything to a head, and Minerva has to learn to accept forgiveness and to forgive in order to grow as a person. 

I’ve read several novels of curmudgeonly middle-aged men whose lives are transformed by quirky young neighbors, but this is the first book I’ve read where a somewhat cranky older woman has a renewal of spirit thanks to the friendship of a young man and a child. Readers will be rooting for Minerva every step of the way.

Thursday, November 2, 2023

BOOK REVIEW: Miss Morton and the Spirits of the Underworld by Catherine Lloyd

I received this book for free from Netgalley. That did not influence this review. 

I read book 1 of Catherine Lloyd’s Miss Morton Mysteries series (Miss Morton and the English House Party Murder) so that I would have the background for book 2, Miss Morton and the Spirits of the Underworld. I enjoyed book 2 even more than book 1, but recommend reading them in order.

Miss Caroline Morton and her intrepid employer, Mrs. Frogerton, have returned to London so that Dorothy Frogerton (the daughter) can have a London Season and snare herself a lord. Dr. Harris has also come to London to take a position at the hospital. 

Mrs. Frogerton has visited a medium who supposedly communicates with the dead. Caroline goes with her on a second visit to try to keep her from being defrauded, but is disturbed by a message that seems to be legit – from her dead father. Although Caroline is skeptical, she has to admit the woman has an uncanny talent. She asks Dr. Harris to accompany her on another visit to help convince her it is a scam. When he does, the medium says something that seems to frighten/offend him. They go to pay her yet another call during the daytime and find her dead.

Although there should be plenty of suspects, the investigator is in a hurry and pins the murder on Dr. Harris. Caroline and Mrs. Frogerton know he is innocent, but his gruff demeanor and secrecy do him no favors with the police. It is up to Caroline and Mrs. Frogerton to once again solve the murder(s).

The two sleuths are fun to watch. Caroline’s interactions with Society are interesting, as she is made to go about in Society circles with people who shunned her after her father’s bankruptcy and suicide. And the developing relationship between the calm polite Caroline and the rude Dr. Harris promises an interesting slowly progressing romance.